The Movie Guru: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone fantastic in ‘The Favourite’
Rated: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language.
Written by: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara.
Directed by: Yorgo Lanthimos.
Starring: Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn and more.
Grade: Three stars.
When critics rave about a well-made movie, they often forget to ask themselves whether a majority of people would enjoy watching it.
To be fair, “The Favourite” is an absolute treat for people with very specific tastes. If you like period drama-comedies where cold, caustically witty humor and political machinations both bounce around like high-speed pingpong balls, you’re going to love the movie. If you love Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz or Emma Stone so deeply that you want to see them act masterfully no matter what else is going on around them, you may also love this movie.
The rest of the world, however, may prefer to admire the movie at a distance. “The Favourite” can be dizzying to watch, exquisitely made but so emotionally chilly you might want to wear your coat even inside the theater. The trio of lead roles are all deliciously meaty and performed by actresses at the top of their game, but the main reason they’re all so interesting is that they’re the sort of complicated, gritty, morally gray roles that normally go to men. Here the men are mostly here as decoration or plot contrivances, and not one is anything close to likeable.
The movie starts with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), who technically rules England but is hobbled by twin cases of gout and insecurity. Lady Sarah (Weisz), Anne’s friend, lover and confidant, makes most of the actual decisions in the queen’s place. Abigail, a fallen noblewoman working as a maid, appears and starts working her way into the queen’s good graces. As the two battle for Anne’s attention, other forces begin to choose sides until the very fate of England may be at stake.
This is by far Yorgos Lanthimos’ most accessible work, surreal but without the almost nightmarish randomness that plagues his other films. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara can credit a large part of their to the excellent script, a master class in pacing and dialogue that surprises most during the rare moments of genuine emotion. Beneath this entire pretense are hints of a real beating heart.
But if you do watch “The Favourite,” do it for the actresses. They supply the real emotion in the movie, giving the cold lines a world of depth and nuance through their performances. Without all three of the central actresses, there would be no reason to watch this movie.
The real standout, however, is Colman. She takes what could have been a joke character and turns it into a tour-de-force, by turns furious, pained, powerful and bitterly lonely. She’s fearless about the character’s emotional ugliness, but still manages to make her seem very real. It’s the textbook definition of an Oscar-worthy performance.
It’s not the only part of the movie that reaches that level. Whether or not it’s worth watching, however, is up to you.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.